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Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park is a sprawling, awe-inspiring escape

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Flying through Lake Clark Pass in a four-seater Cessna 206 (the fifth seat had been removed to make room for baggage), I felt like I had cheated some long-established rule: Visit a national park on Memorial Day weekend and you are required to sit in traffic hell for hours. But there are no roads into Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Boats and planes are the only way in. Mine was a 273-km flight from Merrill Field, Anchorage, Alaska’s municipal airport, to the town of Port Alsworth.

Lake Clark was declared a national park in 1980 as part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in an effort to protect “multiple values,” including the waters that flow into Bristol Bay, site of the world’s largest salmon fishery, said Megan Richotte, Lake Clark National Park’s program manager for interpretation. The park is a veritable greatest hits of Alaskan landscapes and wildlife. It would take many lifetimes to hike all of Lake Clark’s glaciers, mountains, volcanoes and tundra; paddle all of the park’s lakes and shoreline; and spot the wide range of wildlife large — bears, lynx, eagles and wolves — and (very) small — collared pika and tundra shrew — that claim the area as home. And Lake Clark is also a culturally rich area, home for thousands of years to the Dena’ina Athabascan Indigenous people.

The view from the eastern shores of Lake Clark in Lake Clark National Park.
The view from the eastern shores of Lake Clark in Lake Clark National Park.  (Christopher Miller / for The New York Times)

Neither Tara, a frequent adventure buddy, nor I pack light. When travelling by bush plane, that will cost you. We overshot Lake and Pen Air’s 50 pounds-per-person packing limit by 50 pounds each. It came out to an extra $80 — and ended up being totally worth it. We were heading to the only public-use cabin in all of Lake Clark’s 4 million acres — bigger than the state of Connecticut. All that space for about 23,000 visitors per year.

There are plenty of spots to camp in Lake Clark’s backcountry, as well as established campgrounds and more than a few lodges. But as soon as I found information online about the Priest Rock public-use cabin, I knew it was where I wanted to stay. Alaska is peppered with public-use cabins — most, like this one, for just $65 a night. They offer protection against cranky weather and nighttime bear worries (real and imagined).

But unlike most cabins around the state, this single cabin in Lake Clark National Park had a backstory.

Outside of Alaska, the park is most closely associated with Richard Proenneke, who filmed himself while building his own cabin in 1967 and 1968. The 16-mm reels were later turned into the Alone in the Wilderness documentaries, which are frequently shown on public television. Though he was the only one who captured his cabin life on film, “there were many cabin-builders of that era,” Richotte said.

The Island Lodge in Lake Clark National Park.
The Island Lodge in Lake Clark National Park.  (Christopher Miller/For The New York Times)

The cabin at Priest Rock “was built to be a home,” she said. “It was lived in and loved by the Woodwards for many years.” Allen Woodward, a pilot in Anchorage, built the cabin — his second at Lake Clark — in the mid-1970s. His wife, Marian, started spending summers there with him in 1986.

Public-use cabins are not Airbnbs. Nobody leaves a tin of granola for you. You bring what you need and pack it out too; nothing left behind. Tara and I are both avid backcountry cooks, so we brought cookware, stoves and even a collapsible kitchen sink, along with real food, including the ingredients for a shrimp-heavy paella and garam masala-seasoned chickpeas and tomato. I also brought a backup meal of dehydrated pad thai, in case Alaska’s often unpredictable weather delayed our pickup. Tara had two fishing rods and her waders for catch-and-release fishing.

Our Cessna climbed away from the gridded layout of Anchorage and across Cook Inlet, the greenish aqua and silty river waters that feed it bumping up against each other. It was sunny and warm at the start of the 90-minute flight. A short time later, we dipped back into winter as we flew through the pass between the Neacola and Chigmit mountain ranges. The temperature dropped. Snow ruled the landscape.

A view of Lake Clark from a trail on the side of Tanalian Mountain, in Lake Clark National Park.
A view of Lake Clark from a trail on the side of Tanalian Mountain, in Lake Clark National Park.  (Christopher Miller/For The New York Times)

We soon landed in Port Alsworth, which is more a busy hive than tourist destination, though there are several lodges. The town has a year-round population of 156. There are no restaurants or shops. On summer days, there is a food truck that sells hamburgers and thick shakes. There is also a new school, a Bible camp and a retreat for wounded veterans run by evangelist Franklin Graham’s organization, Samaritan’s Purse. And, of course, Lake Clark National Park’s headquarters.

Beth Hill, an owner of Tulchina Adventures, a local outfitter, met us by the plane. She offered to hold our bags while we hiked the only maintained trail system in all of Lake Clark. We threw our gear into Hill’s beautiful bumper-stickered beater of a truck, grabbed our day packs and bear spray and went off to explore.

Though rated “moderate” in difficulty, the two-mile hike to Tanalian Falls had just enough uphill to keep it from feeling like a stroll. White paper birch trees, thin layers of bark peeling off and waving in the breeze, lined the trail. The non-stop call-and-response of birds was our soundtrack as we descended the last bit of the trail.

A hanging glacier flows out of the Chigmit Mountain Range above Glen Aronson, left, and David Svobodny as they travel a two-mile portage from Summit Lake to the upper headwaters of the Tlikakila River in Lake Clark National Park.
A hanging glacier flows out of the Chigmit Mountain Range above Glen Aronson, left, and David Svobodny as they travel a two-mile portage from Summit Lake to the upper headwaters of the Tlikakila River in Lake Clark National Park.  (Christopher Miller/For The New York Times)

And then, through the sound of the waterfall growing louder with each step, we heard the blast of a giant whooping noise.

We continued down, watching for hurt animals, bears — anything that could make that noise. And then we saw backpacks on the ground. We guessed the whooping came from skinny-dippers, though they weren’t yet in view.

A minute later, standing by the waterside, I saw a flash of brownish-black fur running toward Tara. I started to yell “bear!” Then I saw the rest of the animal. Not a bear. A Karelian bear dog, its white front legs and bushy wagging tail upending my fright. The swimmers (Did I imagine they were blushing?) gathered their packs and headed off with the pup.

Tara and I went back to the trail to climb to the upper falls. We walked out onto the lava rocks for a better view: The frigid glacial water tumbled down 30 feet, sending spray into the air. We each took a spot on a flat area of rock, pulled out our lunches, and listened to the water roar. It was glorious.

Just after starting back, another flash of fur.

“Bear,” Tara said, steadily. There was no fear — the black bear was about 50 yards off. We were close enough to see it but far away enough not to be in his way. The bear wanted nothing to do with us. It disappeared into the trees.

A black-capped chickadee got a seed from a visitor in Lake Clark National Park.
A black-capped chickadee got a seed from a visitor in Lake Clark National Park.  (Christopher Miller/For The New York Times)

We hiked back to town to meet Hill at her place. She loaded our gear, rental kayaks and two other Karelian bear dogs (it turned out the interloper was hers too) into the truck. I sat in the back on the cooler, happy to ride outdoors on the way to the lake, one of the dogs leaning against my legs.

After transferring our gear and kayaks (and the dogs) to Hill’s motorboat, we started the eight-mile ride to the cabin. On the lake, the mountains, rising up 6,000 feet and stretching along the shoreline, stole all my attention. Tara and Hill were deep in conversation but, sitting behind them, the wind whipped their words away before I could hear them. The whole day had already been a grand adventure that left me crazy happy, but now my giddiness was going into overdrive. These wild places are why I love Alaska so, and why, after 12 years of trips to Alaska, this Brooklyn-born, New Jersey-raised, East-Coast diehard moved here full time five years ago.

The 35-foot-tall rock in sight, it was clear where Priest Rock’s Anglo name had come from — “Looks like a priest’s hat,” Tara said, helpfully — as well as its much older Dena’ina name, Hnitsanghi’iy, which means “the rock that is embedded.”

A glacier flows out of the Chigmit Mountain Range into a small lake in Lake Clark Pass in Lake Clark National Park.
A glacier flows out of the Chigmit Mountain Range into a small lake in Lake Clark Pass in Lake Clark National Park.  (Christopher Miller/For The New York Times)

Hill helped us carry some of our gear into the cabin. We made a plan to call her by satellite phone Sunday morning to check that all was well for our Monday pickup, and then she loaded the dogs back into the boat and took off.

The cabin didn’t just feel like a home; it was a home. While looking through a National Park Service book about the area, I was tickled to see that some of the pieces in the cabin — a print of a bathing man surprised by a visit from two bear cubs, a wooden stool with one of its three legs extending out at a sharp angle — were original to the place. Outside, there was an old wooden ladder and a weathered hand-built handcart with a busted wheel; a clean outhouse (with a fancy toilet paper holder bolted to the wall); an old rowboat, clearly loved and well used, a tiny chip of paint still showing up as bright aqua; and enough wood to feed the stove and fend off any chill for weeks, maybe months. I wanted to stay, to keep the rest of the world at bay.

Alpine azalea wildflowers along a trail on the side of Tanalian Mountain in Lake Clark National Park.
Alpine azalea wildflowers along a trail on the side of Tanalian Mountain in Lake Clark National Park.  (Christopher Miller/For The New York Times)

After dinner, we played a card game or two and then both sat reading. I tried to, anyway. It was 8 p.m. and there were still three hours of light to go. The world had gone golden. I turned my chair toward the wall of windows that looked out onto the beaver slough between the cabin and the lake. Yellow-rumped warblers and other birds darted around. I would never need a TV if I lived here. The world outside the windows was all I wanted to watch.

That’s how it continued. We cooked meals, talked, went out on the lake in our kayaks, fished, wandered about, watched birds. Read. Watched birds again. This slice of Lake Clark National Park was all the world I needed.

Then it was time to go. We packed. We loaded the boat back up. We got on a slightly bigger plane and flew over turquoise lakes that made me want to scream that I wanted to go back. But it was time to go back to our real homes, the ones that pull our focus in too many directions.

If You Go

Reserve the Priest Rock Public Use Cabin through recreation.gov; book well in advance. You have to pay upfront; the maximum stay is five nights.

Lake and Pen Air flies from Anchorage to Port Alsworth year-round. The round-trip flight is $498. For more information, visit lakeandpenair.com.

Tulchina Adventures provides water taxi and kayak rental services. They also have campsites. For more information, visit tulchinaadventures.com.

For information about visits to other areas of Lake Clark National Park & Preserve, visit nps.gov/lacl/index.htm.

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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